Persistently lower oil prices continue to hurt UAE economy: IMF
The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today concluded the Article IV consultation with the United Arab Emirates.
Persistently lower oil prices continue to weigh on economic sentiment and fiscal and external positions, but large buffers built over time have provided ample policy space, limited negative inward spillovers and contained the weakening of investor appetite.
Non-oil economic activity has slowed to 3.7 percent in 2015 driven by a contraction of public investment in the context of fiscal consolidation, and lower contribution from domestic private demand. Negative effects on overall growth were partially offset by the increase in oil production. Despite the strong fiscal policy response to adjust to lower oil prices, the fiscal balance turned to a deficit of 2.1 percent of GDP, while the current account surplus declined to 3.3 percent of GDP. Banks remained well capitalized and liquid, though pressures on profitability are emerging as asset quality weakens due to the economic slowdown and ris- ing funding costs.
Economic activity is expected to moderate further in 2016, before improving over the medium term. Nonhydrocarbon growth is projected to slow to 2.4 percent in 2016 due to fiscal consolidation, the stronger dollar, and tighter monetary and financial conditions. Over the medium-term, nonhydrocarbon growth is forecast to increase to above 4 percent as the dampening effect of fiscal consolidation is offset by improvements in economic sentiment and financial conditions as oil prices rise, a pickup in private investment in the run-up to the Expo 2020, and stronger external demand.
Executive Directors welcomed the United Arab Emirates' resilience to the oil price shock. Directors commended the authorities for their prudent policies, which helped build large fiscal and external buffers and strengthened the economy. Nevertheless, persistent lower oil prices continue to pose challenges. Directors underscored the need for sustained sound macroeconomic policies to reduce fiscal vulnerabilities, safeguard financial stability, and promote long-term growth.
Directors welcomed the authorities' commitment to pursue fiscal consolidation. For the near term, in light of the ample buffers, they generally considered a gradual adjustment effort to be appropriate in order to minimize the negative impact on growth. However, stronger fiscal consolidation will be needed over the medium term to ensure intergenerational equity.
Directors encouraged the authorities to diversify revenues and rationalize current spending, while further strengthening public financial management. They welcomed the plans to introduce a VAT and increase excise taxes, which could be followed by a corporate income tax. Directors also recommended phasing out remaining energy subsidies, while protecting the vulnerable. Priority should also be given to curb other current spending, while preserving public investment and enhancing its efficiency. Directors noted that developing a consolidated forward-looking medium-term fiscal framework would assist the authorities in setting direction for fiscal policy, and in aligning resource allocation with the UAE 2021 vision. They encouraged the authorities to strengthen the debt management framework to better account for contingent liabilities from Government Related Entities and Public-Private Partnerships.